This 95ft converted Dutch barge for sale for £375,000 is an opportunity for an entrepreneur with a taste for adventure to own a floating hotel.

The vessel has a 120 hp diesel engine, ten cabins, ten bathrooms, honeymoon suite, swanky saloon with a bar, skipper’s quarters and a well equipped galley designed to cater for a maximum of 12 passengers plus crew of four if necessary.

The boat is moored on the Thames at Mapledurham House in Reading.

Its name has changed three times since it was built in Holland as a working barge in 1923. At that time it was called De Hoop. The original name is welded on the anchor.

De Hoop remained a working barge until the late 1950s or early 60s. The present owners, Andy and Bonny Cowley, aren’t sure of the exact date when it was moved to Ireland and converted into a luxury cruiser expressly for the American market.

“That’s why all the bedrooms were doubles,” he says. “They all had to be en suite and all centrally heated. In 1960 you couldn’t sell accommodation to Americans unless every bedroom was en suite.” 

Once in Ireland, the name was changed from De Hoop to Shannon Princess – Shannon being the river where she operated for over 40 years until the Cowleys brought her to England and moored her on the Thames in 2004.

Andy says there were teething problems when she was first converted. “I was told by the owner who sold her to us that when his predecessor first bought her he passed the local priest in the high street one day.  

He inquired how the boat was getting on and the owner said ‘Terrible, Father.’ It had broken down at the time. He listed all the things that had gone wrong and needed fixing. ‘Have you had the boat blessed?’ asked the priest. ‘No, I haven’t,’ said the owner. 

‘Put 25 euros into the collection plate and  I’ll be round directly to bless it.’ said the priest.

“According to the owner I bought it from,” Andy adds “nothing ever went wrong with the boat from that time on. There’s still a crucifix in the engine room and a phial of holy water.” 

However when business needed a shot in the arm five years after the Cowleys brought the cruiser over from Ireland, they called in The Hotel Inspector to work wonders, not having a friendly priest with divine powers on hand to fix the necessary management re-fit.  

The video of Alexi Polizzi’s meeting with Andy and Bonnie aboard the boat is now one of the highspots for passengers on a five-day cruise. “We show it  to them on Thursday evenings. They love it.” 

Alexi evidently provided the know-how to get the business afloat again. Did they get on well together? “She did swear a bit,” laughs the skipper.
Bonny is South African.

She worked for an architect in her home country before she met Andy. He’s from the Isle of Wight. They ran a hotel there for seven years before they bought the boat.

One of the first things they did was change its name. They explain: “You have to do that through the Department of Environment. Bonny wanted to call it The African Queen.

She said the boat had been a princess in Ireland and deserved to be upgraded to a queen now she’d come to England. 

“The people at the DoE told her ‘There are more than 20 boats called The African Queen. Call her The African Queen of London and she’ll be the only one. We followed their advice.”

Having no more than 12 passengers on a five day cruise makes for an enjoyable party, Andy says. “They come back very relaxed. They get on well, some of them rebook and meet up again as many as three times a year.”

As well as cruises, they do corporate days, birthday parties, Christmas parties, private cruises limited to one family – the sources of revenue are plentiful.

Today the boat has five double guest cabins, one twin guest cabin, two single guest cabins, a twin bunk cabin for the crew and a large double aft cabin with private saloon in the original skipper’s quarters for Andy and Bonny.

Each cabin has an en suite shower room. When they’re not working, the Cowleys live in a flat on shore.

All meals are provided on board which is one of the reasons why Andy, now 74 ,and 70-year-old Bonny are starting to run out of steam. The couple have decided to sell up. 

“After all these years, the catering is beginning to be hard work,” they say. “We have a set menu. There are no choices for dinner, everyone has the same, even so it’s difficult to keep finding new recipes.” This year they’ve been booked solid right up until Christmas.

The new owners will have the option to continue the business or turn the accommodation into a palatial floating home for themselves. The world awaits.

The African Queen of London is on the books at